Fame for Timaru's little penguins

ALEXIA JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2013
timaru penguin count
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ

SIGN OF THE TIMES: George Iles, left, and Paul Hutcheson have set up a sign on Marine Parade to inform the public about little blue penguins, which have set up home in the area.

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Timaru's penguins have an international following.

The town's little blue penguins, which have set up home under the rocks near Caroline Bay, were counted on Tuesday night by the public.

Among those unintentionally on site for the count was a group of international tourists, including three women from Germany and two Israelis.

A further six people from other parts of New Zealand were also in the area in the hope of spotting some of Timaru's new inhabitants. The Department of Conservation, with support of other groups in the area, has been hosting an annual count of the penguins recently.

This week marked the second count. There were 42 adults recorded and 11 chicks. Last year there were 50.

DOC partnership ranger George Iles said the result was pleasing, but it was not an exact indication of how many birds had set up home at Caroline Bay.

"All we'll be doing over time [with the count] is spotting trends in population numbers, instead of having absolute numbers, because we wouldn't have counted everything. There may have been some that came in [from shore] after we finished."

The penguins needed protection, which the public could help.

"What I realised while wandering around [was] how vulnerable they are because they are just there on the rocks, crossing the road, sitting around on the rocks, so they are vulnerable to people and dogs.

"You wonder how they survive down there. They need a lot of community help really. They need friends."

Mr Iles said he was also surprised by how many people, in particular tourists, were looking for the penguins on Tuesday night. "It just makes you realise this must happen night after night. People are being told about the penguins, which is cool, and going down to look for them."

He has since placed interpretation panels along Marine Parade. The panels are designed to inform the public what the penguins are doing at different stages of the year, the best way to go about watching them and to encourage people to protect the birds.

"If they see people doing things they shouldn't do they might feel empowered to speak to them," he said.

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- The Timaru Herald

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